The Internet has been a buzz over two exceptional talents: Adam Lambert and Susan Boyle. What can we learn from them about how important it is for us to develop an openness to see and experience DIFFERENCES DIFFERENTLY? What can these two talents teach us about ourselves?
First, Adam Lambert has taken the American Idol competition by storm amidst an impressive group of this year's AI candidates. Regardless of who you may be rooting for, it is hard to deny that Adam has in fact elevated Season 8 of this popular show to a whole new level with a incredible combo of voice + artistry with his sure-to-dazzle-the-audience performances each week. This doesn't take away from the "talent factor" of other performers. They are all terrific. Adam Lambert is just bringing a unique portfolio of skills and using it...every bit of it. Reportedly, nothing he is doing is left to chance, "My personal strategy with the week to week thing, ...I know I did well this week and so I'm setting the bar higher. How am I going to top that?' (KSFM interview) Ask yourself, When is the last time you asked that question after a long week at work?
His performance of "Mad World" brought Simon Cowell, the audience, and people (including me :-) across the world to their feet to cheer the second-to-none experience of watching "a new star" be born before our eyes, the likes we've not seen recently. It's not just the usual favorite "Idol" fixation either. Adam's many dimensions of DIFFERENCE drive people wild, bringing both the highest praise and not so uncommon controversy. If you've not seen him in action creatively cascading his capacity for artistic interpretation brought to life, check these out performances (Oh, go ahead...brave it; take a peek at something new and different): Black Or White Play that Funky Music Mad World Tracks of My Tears Born To Be Wild (Easy Rider).
It's funny to watch us want to put our familiar labels on him in an effort to explain what we are seeing in him, instead of savoring what makes Adam Lambert unique. One's generational perspective seems to shape whether the stretch is to compare him to Zac Efron or Elivs. The Legendary singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka recently commented that he thinks Adam can take it all the way: "Adam is like a young Elvis, isn't he?" What's exciting is his broad appeal --- hmmm! here I am writing about him. The joy many feel about what Adam Lambert is giving us each week is fun to follow and personally experience. I admit, the kids in my life got me hooked on American Idol years ago and Adam has added a whole new element to it.
However, high performance that is resetting the standard rarely comes without some criticism in a world that values sameness. As we experience in day-to-day life, whether you're talking about your workplace, business, organizational life, music or society everywhere, high performing individuals seem to bring out a mean-spiritedness in some people --- maybe it's envy; maybe it's fear; maybe it's about them --- imagine that such brilliance, imagination, determination, raw, passionate talent can result in hate talk. We certainly witnessed it during the U.S. election, as an example and that excellence prevails. YEAH! The old behavior, still very present, begs the question, "what are we so afraid of when someone isn't just like us?" Now, there's a question worthy of our self-examination!
A similar reaction to DIFFERENCE in age and look with a kind of expected preconceived prejudice came out when Susan Boyle hit the stage on Britain's Got Talent. Simon Cowell, the other judges, and the audience seemed to find subtle (and not so subtle ways) to heckle Susan Boyle as she dared to share her dream to be an aspiring singing star at nearly 50 and saw "the door opening." With her far-too-long hidden talent, she has blown away millions of people around the world with her gift of VOICE. She showed us!!! Drove us to tears. ...and did you notice that once we're personally touched by someone DIFFERENT, all the barriers fall away? Nice!
LESSONS to LEARN from TOP TALENT
Perhaps this leads us to question our own REACTIONS to DIFFERENCE and take in what we might learn from Adam Lambert, Susan Boyle, and others who have believed in their dreams enough to risk it all... Here are two compelling lessons to take away and apply to your own life, work, and organizations:
Lesson 1: INNOVATION IS FUELED WHEN YOU USE YOUR WHOLE "TOOLBOX"
Interestingly, as I've read Adam Lambert's story, listened to his interviews, heard his parents reflect on his life, and watched him, it brought up the wisdom of Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management. He wrote in The Post Capitalist Society, "Most of us, (perhaps all of us) know many times more than we put to use. We do not mobilize the multiple knowledges we possess. We do not use knowledges as part of one toolbox." Adam Lambert is one of the best examples I've seen in a long while of someone who has opened his carefully crafted "toolbox" at American Idol --- a collection which has been developed through years of passionately pursuing his dream since he was 10 years old --- built by hard work, struggle, risk-taking, triumphs, defeats, and resolute belief. He is showing all of us how to put our whole "toolbox" to use as he accumulates his masterful collection of performances. He describes his strategy this way: "I don't become a one-trick pony." My boss at IBM years ago coached me in a similar way about distinguishing oneself as a leader and innovator. He said, "You got to demonstrate over and over that you can 'change your spots.'"
Lesson 2: DIFFERENCES ARE ESSENTIAL TO INNOVATION
Unless things change; they stay the same. There is a truism I learned along the way. Both Adam Lambert and Susan Boyle prove this one. If you keep listening to the same ol' people, singing the same ol' songs, in the same ol' way, having taken the same ol' route to get there, you'll get something similar to what you already have. If you want to discover something new and different, you have to be open to someone emerging that breaks up the sameness. Once in a while, someone shows up to share their many dimensions of difference, and when we are open to it, they lift us up to see the things from a new perspective.
In my book, Putting Our Differences to Work: The Fastest Way to Innovation, Leadership, and High Performance, there is a compelling case for us to learn to see and experience DIFFERENCES DIFFERENTLY, because it is at the intersection of differences where you'll find a rich source of INNOVATION. I also define Five Distinctive Qualities of Leadership to add to your personal portfolio if you want to develop a mastery for recognizing, appreciating, developing, engaging, and utilizing TOP TALENT. These aren't TRAITS. QUALITIES are different; they ask more from us. They don't come from worldly rules; instead they emerge from a resolute mix of VALUES and INTENTION.
The graphic above is the DIMENSIONS of DIFFERENCE wheel from my book. It helped me see how many differences each of us brings to any situation and it creates a mirror of what happens when all the DIFFERENCES are consciously made part of our distinctive "toolbox." We've all got lots of great stuff we overlooked and under-valued for a long time. We need to begin seeing ourselves and others with a powerful wide-angle lens without diminishing what makes us unique and different.
At this critical time in history, the world would benefit if we could: 1) develop a genuine curiosity about others; 2) elevate the importance of not just what we have in common, but also what we bring that is unique and different; 3). strive for mastery for putting our differences to work. We need to break old habits of hatefulness and envy --- and replace these detractors with an openness for what's new and maybe never seen before, even when it means we have to clear the way for others to walk ahead in the spotlight to lead the way. We have to see the good in others, so we can bring out the best in ourselves from what they teach us. Imagine the difference we could make in creating a better world than we know today.
So to Adam Lambert and Susan Boyle, I am grateful you showed up on my path. You've been in my thoughts and I am so happy to have learned from your example. May your individual journeys be blessed!
Welcome the unexpected...
Watch for the uncharted path that bears your name.
Lead the way!
founder, Global Dialogue Center
and Leadership Solutions Companies
author, Putting Our Differences to Work (Berrett-Koehler 2008)
The Fastest Way to Innovation, Leadership, and High Performance
YouTube Book Review by futurist Joel A. Barker
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